Bearing Witness to Climate Change March 2023

The UN IPCC climate report compiled by hundreds of scientists from nearly 200 countries was released, further warning of catastrophic warming and harm if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t drastically reduced faster than they are. The authors believe that this could be the last report issued before the Paris Accord targets are exceeded, which is now expected, and planetary tipping points are breached. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres added that the world is on the wrong track and called for developed countries to move their net-zero targets a decade earlier from 2050 to 2040 while stopping the use of coal by 2030. But in good news he reminded the world that we already have the knowledge, tools and financial resources needed to achieve climate goals, but the window of opportunity to use them is closing rapidly.

The International Energy Agency has reported that global carbon emissions from energy production and industry production grew by almost 1% last year and hit a record high of 36.8 billion metric tons. Many climate scientists warn that emissions need to be going down by now, not further up, if we have any chance of slowing climate change. The good news is that the growth was less than expected, although for bad reasons due to a war in Europe, an energy crisis, and some economies in recession or still locked down due to COVID.

In better news, US electricity production from renewable sources barely surpassed that of coal for the first time in 2022. Wind and solar combined generated 14% of electricity with nuclear, hydrogen, and biomass contributing another 7%. Three states produced nearly half of all solar power: California, Texas, and North Carolina. Three other states produced about half of all wind power: Texas, Iowa, and Oklahoma.

New Jersey has become the latest US state committing to 100% clean energy by 2035. To meet the goal the state will create an Office of Climate Action and Green Economy.

The state of Washington held its first carbon allowance auction this month. It is part of the state’s cap and invest program which sets a cap on emissions then allows businesses to purchase allowances that become progressively expensive. Washington become the third state to do so on the west coast, following California and Oregon.

Yet other states are experiencing more controversy. As some 15 conservative counties in Illinois have attempted to ban or restrict renewable energy projects, the largely progressive state has responded by banning the bans.

Republicans in the U.S. House are still working to repeal sections of President Biden’s climate legislation from last year. In a new energy bill passed along partisan lines, they want to increase fossil fuel production and make it easier for oil and gas projects to get approval by shortening environmental reviews. It would also limit the President’s authority over energy development.

Wealthy people in the US are said to have a larger carbon footprint than rich people in other countries around the world. The top 10% of Americans produce an average of nearly 57 tons of CO2 per person each year.  This is more than double that of the equivalent Europeans.

The US Postal Service has announced it is buying 9,250 electric vans from Ford Motor and 14,000 charging stations from Siemens. The service has said it will go all electric for all new vehicle purchases starting in 2026.

The world’s largest outdoor skating rink in Ottawa, Canada has yet to open this winter because it has not been cold enough to sufficiently freeze the lake water.

A new study from the University of Washington reports that conflict between humans and wildlife is rising around the world due to climate change. Extreme weather events, like droughts and wildfires, are driving animals out of their normal habitats into new territories where they come into conflict with people and livestock.  Some ecosystems are collapsing, accelerating the unpredictable migration of mammals.

Spring is coming weeks early across much of the US, including some regions which had no or little snowfall this year. The unseasonable warm weather is putting flora and fauna in peril where they emerge too soon before the last hard freezes occur.

The EPA announced additional restrictions on wastewater pollution that comes from coal power plants.  The new rules will require greater removal of toxic metals, which will cost operators more, and make some coal plants even less economical compared to renewables.

Emissions in the UK for 2022 are reported to have decreased by 3.4% due largely to a 15% reduction in coal usage. The UK is now about halfway to meeting its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

A once in a lifetime cyclone in the Indian Ocean has become the longest-lasting cyclone in history. Now over a month old, the storm has killed dozens in its over 5,000 mile path of carnage from Australia to Africa.

Republican dominated states in the US which have been fighting ESG investing with anti-ESG legislation and boycotts are now receiving push back from businesses. Proponents of ESG are arguing with some success that ignoring financial perils, like those from climate change, will cause states to risk the loss of billions of dollars.

At the last-minute, Germany is blocking final approval of the EU’s legislation to ban the sale of new CO2-emitting cars starting in 2035. A minority member of Germany’s ruling coalition government wants to allow the sale of combustion engines that use synthetic e-fuels. While e-fuels are made from renewable energy sources, when they are burned in combustion engines, they still emit carbon dioxide.

New research from the Norwegian Polar Institute documents the long-lasting damage that climate change has done to Arctic sea ice.  Sea ice in the polar region has become progressively thinner and younger which scientists think is due to ocean warming. Most alarming is that since 2007 there have been no rebound years offsetting the decreases.

The Farmer-Citizen movement in the Netherlands has shocked the environmentally friendly country by claiming some 20% of the vote. The group is fighting against regulations that would lower emissions from nitrogen.

In a decision that shocked and saddened many climate activists, the Biden Administration gave final approval to leases for the Willow crude oil drilling project in northern Alaska. At its peak the project is expected to extract 180,000 barrels of oil a day that will result in 263 million additional tons of GHG emissions over the next three decades. Scientists have warned that to meet the net zero target by mid-century the extraction of new fossil fuels must stop immediately and be left in the ground. As President Biden during his campaign had promised no more new drilling on federal lands, his otherwise excellent climate record is being questioned by some who feel betrayed.

The surprising rapid failure of Silicon Valley Bank has rattled investment in clean energy.  The bank, a darling of venture capitalists and their portfolio startups, financed over $1B in renewable energy projects last year as part of a commitment to provide $5B in sustainability-related funding.

According to the NRDC, industrial logging in Canada accounts for more than 10% of the country’s total GHG emissions. This is greater than the emissions from Canada’s electricity generation.  More than a million acres of boreal forest are clearcut each year.

NASA scientists are reporting that extremes in rainfall are becoming, well, more extreme in intensity and duration. Using satellite data they found flood and droughts are getting bigger and more frequent, and correlated these trends with increasing global air and water temperatures.

White House economic advisers are warning that climate change poses severe economic risk and challenges for the entire country, not just the federal budget. They argue that the cost of weather-related disasters, flooding, droughts, wildfires, water shortages, agricultural failures, sea level rise, climate adaptation, harm to vulnerable populations, insurance and infrastructure failures, and population migration has been grossly underestimated. The Council of Economic Advisers are urging the use of federal policies and funding to help influence states, businesses, and residents make better decisions given a changing climate.

A group of young people in the U.S. state of Montana is suing the state over its role in climate change. Montana has a provision in its constitution guaranteeing its citizens the right to a clean and healthy environment. As the state is the fifth largest producer of coal in the US, the plaintiffs are seeking to end the state’s support of the fossil-fuel industry.

At the other end of the age spectrum, thousands of older adults in the Rocking Chair Rebellion staged nearly 100 protests across the country. They were organized by Third Act, co-founded by climate activist Bill McKibben. The senior citizens targeted banks which are the biggest lenders to the fossil fuel industry including Chase, Citibank, and Bank of America.

The European Parliament and EU reached agreement on raising key sustainability goals. Under the new plan, renewable energy must make up at least 42.5% of the EU’s total energy consumption by 2030, up from the current 32% target. It also mandates that half of all energy used to cool and heat buildings be from renewable sources by the end of this decade.

The EU announced it was setting up a European Hydrogen Bank to help finance the production of green hydrogen made from renewable energy sources, as well as the infrastructure required to distribute it. The bank will make subsidies available to make green hydrogen more economically competitive.

Also in Europe, the EU Commission proposed a new set of rules to protect its citizens from greenwashing. A recent study in Europe found that more than half of green claims were vague or misleading with most of those unsubstantiated.

EU lawmakers also announced an agreement to mandate reductions in emissions from the maritime transportation industry. The new rules are part of the plan to cut emissions by over 50% by 2030. They hope this will spur the investment in sustainable and low-carbon fuels for shipping. It will also create innovation in how vessles, including passenger cruise ships, are powered while in berths at their docks.

A new financial report from BloombergNEF predicts that coal consumption will peak in 2024 then gradually fall about 70% by midcentury. The authors stated that there were still many global wild cards from wars to policies that can change how fast the use of coal decreases.

More studies are calling attention to the overvaluation of real estate in regions at the greatest risk to damage from climate change. Researchers have estimated that homes in flood zones are overvalued by some $44 billion. Others argue that one state, Florida, has nearly $50 billion in real estate at risk due to increased storms and flooding, which as in other unsustainable bubbles will impact property lending and insurance markets across the country.

The Pacific Ocean country of Vanuatu, with the support of the UN, has petitioned the International Court of Justice to rule on whether governments have a legal obligation to protect people from harm due to climate change. And if so, can countries be sued under international law for damages. Low rising villages on Vanuatu are already being relocated due to rising sea levels.

The US state of California has been granted legal authority in a waiver from the EPA to require half of all heavy trucks sold in the state be all electric by 2035. Currently, only 2% of heavy trucks sold in the US were all electric, but with California being the world’s fifth largest economy, it is expected manufacturers will respond with changes to its entire truck fleet.

Australia is making amends for a wasted decade in reducing emissions to fight climate change. The country’s parliament passed legislation which will force the biggest industrial polluters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. The current government has announced its intent to reduce overall emissions from 2005 levels by 43% by 2030.

A new study from the American Meteorological Society predicts that the US will see more tornado-spawning storms in the future due to global warming. Some regions of the country may experience an increase of over 50% more supercell storms in the Spring. The authors also think that storms will form later in the evening, when they are more dangerous, and travel longer distances.

Featured image of global carbon emissions is from the IEA at

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